Thursday, November 16, 2017

New Study: "Natural Gas" Has No Climate Benefit, Will Make Things Worse


Your methane bridge to nowhere (source)

by Gaius Publius

I've seen this report referenced several times, but none of those mentions is getting traction. So time to repeat. The idea that methane, so-called "clean natural gas" or "clean energy," is a bridge fuel that can make our climate problem better — is a lie.

Not only that, it's an obvious lie. If you want to eliminate dust and grit, say, from blowing through an open window into your home, you don't half-close the window that lets it in. You close it all the way. If you want to eliminate all carbon emissions from burning fossil fuel, you don't start burning a different fossil fuel. You stop burning all fossil fuels, including methane.

That's just common sense. It makes even more sense when you consider that the Big Oil barons who own the oil companies also own many of the methane companies. Of the ten top drillers of fracked gas in the U.S., the largest by far is:
1. Exxon Mobil

The biggest natural gas producer is also the country's biggest oil company and one of the most profitable corporations in the world. Exxon has operations in every continent but Antarctica. Its oil and gas operations range across several states, from Pennsylvania to Colorado, and it also has wells in the Gulf of Mexico and off the California coast.

With the purchase of XTO, Exxon produces nearly 50 percent more gas than its closest competitor. Earlier this year, Exxon began running ads touting natural gas as a safe, clean source of domestic energy. About two-thirds of the company's domestic reserves are now in natural gas, with the rest in oil.
Others on the top ten list include BP, ConocoPhillips and Chevron. So call the promotion of "clean natural gas" a profit protection plan for Big Oil as well.

Do we want Big Oil companies to be profitable? Only if they abandon carbon fuel extraction and go into an entirely different, entirely anodyne business, as makers of party balloons perhaps. Otherwise, they need to die and disappear as companies, the sooner the better.

(I suspect that most people don't realize this — that if we don't kill off the fossil fuel companies, they will kill us off. That's literally true. Exxon and its like really do have to fail and disappear, or be taken down, before anything resembling our smart-phone civilization can survive.)

The Bridge to Nowhere

The common sense wisdom that says "switching to methane fuel won't help" is backed by data. The latest report is nicely summarized by Joe Romm at ThinkProgress (h/t the smart climate site Faster Than Expected):
Natural gas has no climate benefit and may make things worse
Methane leaks in New Mexico's oil and gas industry equal 12 coal-fired power plants.

The evidence is overwhelming that natural gas has no net climate benefit in any timescale that matters to humanity.

In fact, a shocking new study concludes that just the methane emissions escaping from New Mexico’s gas and oil industry are “equivalent to the climate impact of approximately 12 coal-fired power plants.” If the goal is to avoid catastrophic levels of warming, a recent report [pdf] by U.K. climate researchers finds “categorically no role” to play for new natural gas production.
Of course, the carbon lords get their say, even at the U.N. Note that the source is the IEA, which represents the prospects for the industry, not for the humans affected:
Sadly, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has just published a “Commentary” on “the environmental case for natural gas,” that ignores or downplays key reasons that greater use of natural gas is bad for the climate.
As the note in the Commentary says, "With concerns about air quality and climate change looming large, natural gas offers many potential benefits if it displaces more polluting fuels." Directly contradicted by the data, but when there's money on the table, seems even the U.N. helps its owners bend to pick it up.

The Problem With Methane

Part of the problem is that methane is subject to leaks all along its supply and production chain, and while short-lived in the atmosphere, it's incredibly potent as a greenhouse gas.

Atmospheric methane decays to carbon dioxide and water vapor in about 12 years, but note, carbon dioxide is itself a greenhouse gas, and also, prior to decay — that is, when first emitted — methane is more than a hundred times more potent that CO2. Over a 20-year span, the IPCC considers methane to be 84 times more powerful than CO2. If we keep refreshing the atmospheric supply of methane, as we're doing, we renew its global warming power each year, year after year.

In 15 years or less, global temperature will already have surpassed the dangerously generous "two degrees warming" the world is trying to avoid:
“The 2017 emissions data make it crystal clear that urgent and very serious emissions reductions are needed to stop global warming below 2° C, as was unanimously agreed in Paris,” Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, said in an email. ...

Rahmstorf said there are currently about 600 billion remaining tons of carbon dioxide that can be emitted if the world is to have a good chance of keeping warming considerably below 2 degrees Celsius, and with some 40 billion tons of emissions each year, that leaves just 15 years.
Those fifteen years will shorten every year we keep increasing emissions, as we already know we will do in 2017. In 15 years, most of us will still be alive — and the world will be completely different in ways few can imagine.

The second problem with methane is that it doesn't just replace some coal, it replaces renewable energy sources as well. Call it the magic of the market. Romm:
Indeed, researchers confirmed in 2014 that  —  even if methane leakage were zero percent  — “increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.” Exactly. In fact, a 2016 study found that natural gas and renewables are competing directly with each other to replace coal plants in this country.
Joe Romm's data comes from a study published in 2014 in the journal Science, which has just been reinforced by a new study (pdf) at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Among its conclusions are these (emphasis added):
By 2035 the substantial use of fossil fuels, including natural gas, within the EU’s energy system will be incompatible with the temperature commitments enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

1) The Paris commitment will be exceeded in under 18 years of current greenhouse gas emissions [actually, in 15 years or less according to the latest 2017 emissions data]

2) Non-OECD nations will “fairly” use up to 98% of the 2°C global carbon budget

3) It is highly unlikely that the Paris 1.5°C commitment is a viable mitigation objective

4) Current levels of emissions will use up the EU’s 2°C carbon budget in under nine years

5) To meet its Paris 2°C commitment the EU needs over 12% p.a. [per annum] mitigation, starting immediately

6) To deliver on the Paris commitments, policy makers need a balanced portfolio of CO2 mitigation scenarios with ‘negative emissions technologies’ only included in the exotic minority [i.e., no "Bill Gates and technology will save us" scenario]

7) Methane emissions and atmospheric concentrations are observed at the top end [i.e., worst case] of IPCC scenarios.

9) Carbon dioxide from combustion is the dominant contributor to the long-term climate change impact of natural gas. Methane has a much greater warming effect than carbon dioxide per unit of emissions released but its atmospheric lifetime is short, only about a decade. However, persistently high emissions [meaning leaks] of methane would replenish this loss and maintain this initial warming effect

9a) Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) transport increases the climate change impact of natural gas supply chains [consider that as both parties tout LNG sales — and transport — to Europe]

10) For stabilising at 2°C, reductions in methane emissions must be accompanied by CO2 reductions
And finally:
11) Fossil fuels (including natural gas) have no substantial role in an EU 2°C energy system beyond 2035
The study concludes that "there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production."

What to Note About This Report

Readers of these pages know by now what the rest of the country is just starting to discover — that climate change is already affecting American lives in large and tragic ways, and that the madness of burning fossil fuels to satisfy the greed and, yes, pathology of a small handful of billionaires (plus those they control), that madness must end before it ends us.

What seems new here is the absolute finality of statements in the latest climate reports. These are black-and-white conclusions. Again — "there is categorically no role for bringing additional fossil fuel reserves, including gas, into production." No wiggle room in a statement like that; no sugar at all to coat it with.

Once categorical statement like these make it into the insurance company estimates and reports (to name just one industry affected) — that is, once global warming start to affect billionaire money — you'll see a sudden increase in public awareness, to add to the gradual shifts in awareness we're seeing right now.

Not only will it be a wake-up call; it will look and act like a wake-up call.

Will wake-up call change the course of U.S. carbon emissions? Not while money buys politics and policy in the U.S. But it will introduce Sanders-like political chaos into the system. At that point the political battle will be visible, out in the open, with participants from all quarters joining in. Even the corporate news will report on it.

What will be the effect of a wide and visible public battle over fossil fuel use, as the billionaires dig in?

Complete chaos.


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At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Hone said...

So Gaius, where should I buy gas for my car? Exxon, BP? No choice is a good one. Ugh. Maybe I'll eventually get a Tesla.

Shouldn't we cut down substantially on eating meat, to cut down on all the gas produced by cows? That would hurt another industry big time. Also, all those men who pride themselves on being big meat eaters would not be happy.

Yes, capitalism and greed are BIG problems. And meat eaters.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Gaius Publius said...

It's a systemic clusterf. One answer for cows is to give them a little seaweed (a certain species) with each load of grass. More methane comes from their mouths as they burp than the other exit port.

Yes, less meat. But also remember, we're going down with this ship if the Obama-Clinton-Schumer wing is in power, just as deeply down as if the Trump-Pence wing is in power.

The whole world is focused on getting rid of Trump. They don't need our help. Almost no one is focused on getting rid of Schumer, et al. That's a better place for our energies, IMO.


At 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine if incomplete piece on the topic.

first, grass-fed cattle is better. Bison better still. But if you want more efficient conversion from flora to protein, try ostrich or kangaroo. If 10 billion humans in 2030 are going to eat protein, it should be these and not cattle.

In one of the most ridiculous ironies of our or any time, if we were ONLY trying to "treat" climate change whilst also continuing to burn shit for power, we should convert FROM METHANE TO COAL. You see, all the particulants that coal burning produces are actually a negative forcing on warming... because they block some of the sun's energy from reaching oceans and land.
Ditto for diesel and gas.

But even burning ethanol instead of gas is still burning. And all burning means warming.

Hone: I own an electric already. It won't fix anything, but I've already saved thousands on gas I didn't have to buy. Tesla is only one very good choice among several, depending on your driving needs.

At 8:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

GP, I am gratified that you recognize the democraps as equally complicit here. TYVM.

At 7:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recall that the objection to claims that natural gas was cleaner than coal and oil was raised. Anything involving a carbon-based molecule is going to pollute when burned. A public consensus evolved toward a lesser-evil solution, in that natural gas would result in less pollution than the other two major forms of fuel would produce, and was intended to buy time for more climate-friendly forms of energy generation to evolve.

Sadly, the carbon fuels industry took care of that, buying up patents and sitting on them, squelching political action toward supporting the changeover, and even forcing JImmy Carter's symbolic gesture off the roof of the White House once Reagan took over.

Let's also not forget that the Democrats are deeply involved in this effort as well. Barry the Liar loudly touted "clean" coal as often as he could in his "go along to get a little" political strategy.

At 5:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be clear, methane burning is cleaner than coal burning; propane is cleaner than gasoling which is cleaner than diesel. But "cleaner" means less particulant pollution mostly, with somewhat less noxious gas byproducts also.

So, if you are a lesser evilest, as all non-Nazi americans (including DWT) are, you WANT methane, propane, gasoline and don't want coal and diesel. All living creatures alive today, especially those who breathe, will breathe easier for it.

But warming will continue.

With the current resonant feedback, if we stopped all burning today, warming would continue for 2 centuries. If we stopped all burning AND planted a billion acres of trees today, warming would continue for a century. If we did that AND 5.5 billion humans died (of natural causes) today, warming might only go on for another half century, presuming that the deaths of so many humans would mean that cattle/pork/poultry production would reduce by the same ratio and denuding the oceans of fish would stop and denuding the earth of arable land for housing and building materials would also stop.

But since NONE of those has a nonzero chance of happening, warming will continue, accelerate and by the end of THIS century earth species will be going extinct at a similar rate to the one caused by the asteroid 65 million years ago. Mankind will be among them.

In 50 years, I can see the world growing so disgusted with americans (the hillbillies of humankind) that they may decide to ethnically cleanse us. We'd certainly deserve it.


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